Wednesday, July 25, 2007

“You have no right to be here! This is a Jesus meeting!


25 July 2007

“You have no right to be here! This is a Jesus meeting! And you have no right to be here!” These words still ring in my ears as loudly and as piercingly today as when I first heard them several years ago. I was at the annual Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in Canberra. It’s a gathering of people who confess their faith in Jesus Christ – politicians from all sides of politics, parliamentary workers, and members of the public – and an occasion to give glory to God and to pray for our nation.

It started off really well – an opening prayer, and warm and friendly conversation at the tables. Religious leaders came to the microphone and proclaimed the Gospel. Politicians were invited to lead in prayer or read a passage from Scripture. There was a good feel about the whole occasion.

At a point well into proceedings a prominent politician was invited to read from the Bible. He had barely started when the serenity in the hall was brutally punctured by the angry, indignant, impassioned cry of: “You have no right to be here!”

I felt the full force of it because it came from the table right behind me. I looked around and saw a diminutive, very well dressed, elderly gentleman on his feet, his finger pointing accusingly at the politician. His face was bright scarlet with anger. I could see the veins dilated in his neck, his eyes glaring at the politician with indignation and outrage.

Then he called out again. “You have no right to be hear!” and this time he gave a reason why he believed this particular politician had no right to be there, which I won’t go into here. By now everything had come to a halt and all eyes were upon him. Then he called out – twice – something I will never forget: “This is a Jesus meeting, a Jesus meeting! And you have no right to be here!”

Another man at the table gently urged the enraged man to take his seat. He did. He composed himself and sat down. The politician handled the situation very well, I thought, and offered to arrange a time to talk with the man about the issue over which he felt so strongly. The proceedings resumed and the politician completed the reading.

But I can’t remember the rest of the prayer breakfast. I kept hearing: “This is a Jesus meeting! And you have no right to be here!” This is a Jesus meeting! – and I thought to myself, “Is it? Is it really?”

I thought, what is this fellow’s understanding or definition of a “Jesus meeting?” What would be the agenda for his “Jesus meeting” – what would be the business arising? Clearly, there would be rules and conditions for who could attend and who could not. If someone has no right to be here, then implicitly there must be terms and conditions that have to be met before an individual does have the right to be here. This would not a meeting for all, but for insiders only – those who had earned the right to be there. Clearly, the man considered himself to be an insider and the politician an outsider.

I have no doubt that this man was sincere and genuinely concerned for those affected by the issue he raised. It was a sensitive issue and he was impassioned about it, and rightly so. But by his own inference of what he viewed as a “Jesus meeting” he had behaved remarkably like Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-8:3.

Like the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast, the meeting between Jesus and Simon the Pharisee centred round a meal and, like the Prayer Breakfast, all was going well until an outsider disrupted proceedings – a woman known to be a sinner, who in the eyes of Simon the Pharisee had no right to be there because her credentials didn’t qualify her to attend his definition of a Jesus meeting.

Jesus read Simon’s thoughts and told him a parable about a man who cancelled two debts – one for a man whose debt was small, the other for a man whose debt was enormous – from which Simon correctly concluded that the one who owed the much greater debt had more reason to be grateful? Jesus used this parable to contrast the caring, welcoming action of the woman with Simon’s own lack of hospitality.

It’s an invitation from Jesus for Simon – and for all of us who at times are quick to judge someone as having no right to be here – to view things from Jesus’ perspective.

Jesus is saying, “Simon, look at this woman.” He is saying to the man at the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast, “Friend, look at this politician.” He’s saying to me, “René, look at this person you believe should be excluded from the Kingdom.” He’s saying to you, “Look at this person you believe is an outsider and has no right to be here.”

He is saying, “Look, what do you see?” Do you see a sinner in need of exclusion, a sinner who has no right to be here, or do you see a sinner in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. Do you see a person who needs to be cast out, without concern, or do you see a person full of hunger who needs life-giving nourishment.

It all depends how we look at it. There is a difference in the way Simon the Pharisee saw the woman and the way Jesus saw her, just as there is a difference in the way the man at the breakfast saw the politician and the way Jesus sees him.

Jesus says: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

There is a message here for us who see ourselves as insiders. Our temptation sometimes is to look at someone else and say, yes I know I’m a sinner, we are all sinners, but that person is a real sinner, a bad sinner. It’s easy for us to grade sin on a scale of one to ten, and of course our sins are always at the low end of the scale. It makes it easy to set limits – what is excusable and forgivable, as opposed to what we deem would disqualify someone from having the right to be at our Jesus meeting.

But for Jesus, forgiveness is a gift to be received with empty hands, no matter how unworthy the recipient. In Jesus, our heavenly Father is busy inviting everyone to meet him – even unworthy and sinful politicians.

You see, the business of a Jesus meeting is forgiveness and salvation for all. We don’t need to present our credentials, which is just as well, because we don’t have any. We all fall short of the glory of God. The credential that gives us entry to a “Jesus meeting” is the Cross of Christ, and we did nothing, and could do nothing to merit a stake in that on our own account. We merit the righteousness of Christ by God’s grace on account of Jesus Christ alone and for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.

On leaving the breakfast I noticed the fellow who had earlier called out against the politician sitting at the table talking with the other man who had earlier urged him to sit down. This time there was a thoughtful, reflective look in the eyes of the man who had earlier expressed such hostility. Perhaps, just perhaps, he was listening to the other man telling him about the forbearance of our loving, gracious God, who excludes no one, whose forgiveness is for all, and who wants all to come to repentance, so that none are lost. I would like to think so, for such is the essence of a real “Jesus Meeting.”

René van den Tol

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lost and found on Sydney Harbour


18 July 2007

Hi Guys

This week's Cross Purposes comes to you courtesy of René van den Tol

The parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15:4-7 reads as follows:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

This parable was the Bible text for a sermon earlier this year, and in the process of my sermon preparation it became a reality for me on Sydney Harbour. You may recall the visit of the ocean liners Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2 to Sydney in February. I took my boat out on the harbour to have a look.

Well, I motored to Circular Quay and it was absolute mayhem. Boats everywhere. I manoeuvred to a position quite close to the QE2 when someone came across behind me and clipped the back of my boat. Very soon after, the motor started to run erratically, and a few minutes later it died – and I nearly died with it. There I was, bobbing like a cork on a choppy Sydney Harbour. I gave everything a quick check. The fuel line and electrics still appeared connected. I turned the key – again, and again, and again. Nothing. The motor was completely dead.

By now I’m drifting in the one direction I didn’t want to be drifting – straight towards the QE2. As well as all the people in the boats there were thousands more watching from the shore. Four or five helicopters were circling overhead – most probably television crews. I made sure I kept my sunglasses on and I pulled my cap down further on my head. I didn’t want to be recognised. I could picture the news reports. Local idiot from the Lutheran Church slams into the side of the QE2. His only excuse – “The Devil made me do it.”

I tried to start to motor again. No joy. “Lord, I don’t need this. Deliver me. Ple e e e e e ease!!!”

At that point I could see myself in the parable – like the lost sheep wandering about aimlessly in the wilderness, I was drifting hopelessly on the Harbour, bleating for the shepherd.

After my big silent “Ple e e e e e ease” to the Lord, a fellow came past slowly on my port side and in desperation I called out, “Mate, I’m in trouble, my motor’s dead, can you give me tow, please?”

He did more than that. He backed up, and with his mate they secured me alongside their boat and we slowly motored to where the other boats had positioned themselves at a safe distance from the QE2.

Another vision came to mind, this time of the lost sheep being found by the shepherd, being lifted onto his shoulders, and being carried back safely to the fold.

After being secured to the other fellow’s boat, we propped right under the Harbour Bridge to enjoy the fanfare and I was able to take some photos. My boatie friend even offered me a beer, and when it was time to go he offered to tow me to his boat ramp at Gladesville, or to radio the Maritime service to come and tow me back to Roseville where my car and trailer were parked.

I settled for the second option, and while he was on the radio I took a closer look at my motor and noticed that the electrical connection wasn’t quite seated properly. It must have been slightly dislodged when I was clipped earlier. I gave it a tap to knock back into place, turned the key, and the motor started. I thanked the guys for their help and I was on my way.

God calls all of us to be shepherds to his people, particular the lost sheep. But sometimes we take up that call without the necessary humility that Jesus always showed, but rather with an attitude and air of self-righteousness and superiority that tends to be judgemental of others.

We need timely reminders, that we too are sheep who lose their way and get lost. On that evening on Sydney Harbour I received a timely reminder that I can get as hopelessly lost as anyone, but that in Jesus I have the perfect shepherd – the true shepherd, the only shepherd – who is always patiently trying to tell me that I am his sheep, and that when I get lost, he’s going to look for me. And when he sees what I’ve done, he turns to the Father and says, “Father, forgive him, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.”

Jesus gently reminds you that you, too, are his sheep and that he tirelessly searches for you every time you get lost. He is your shepherd. He is our shepherd who gave his life so that when we lose our way he can call out “Father, forgive them, for they do know what they are doing.”

René van den Tol


Wednesday, July 04, 2007


4 July 2007

Hi Guys

Yet another of the men who make up our weekly Men’s Breakfast has provided something for us to chew on this week. Morne Swanepoel is a man “out of Africa”. Here he shares a little truth he’s found which he knows is true.

“You have probably heard about a rather interesting method they sometimes use when trying to catch a monkey for the zoo. It seems that trappers take a small cage out into the jungle. Inside the cage they place a bunch of bananas and then they close it, locking the bananas inside. Now a monkey coming along and spotting the bananas, will reach through the narrow rungs of the cage and grab a banana. But he can't get it out. And no matter how hard he tries – twisting his hand back and forth – he can't pull his hand through the rungs while hanging on to the banana. And even with the approaching trappers he won't let go of the banana. For the trappers, it's simply a matter then, of coming up and grabbing the monkey. Now if you were standing there in the jungle, watching all of this happen, and wanted to save the monkey, you might yell in exasperation, "Drop the Banana!"

In the same way, we sometimes hang on to our problems and attitudes – attitudes that cloud our perspective, attitudes that alter our actions, attitudes that sidetrack our best intentions – and won't let go of them, even when it would be in our best interest to do so.

Why is that? Why are we continually plagued by long outstanding problems?
Why aren't they overcome or at least brought under control?

Could it quite possibly be that that is the way we want it? We can get so comfortable doing what we have always done that we don't want to overcome the inertia of continuing on as we are.

We don't want to drop the banana in our life because we really enjoy just doing what we have always done even if that behavior is not serving us well. There is a saying that "when you're in a hole, stop digging."
Sometimes we just have to bring everything to a complete halt. Make an assessment of what is going on and make the appropriate correction. The first step in changing your behavior is to stop doing the destructive action that got you there in the first place. Self-examination is necessary for change. But it can be uncomfortable. Comfort is one of the most demotivating forces on earth. It stops us from growing.

Sometimes we say, "I tried but I just can't do it." When we do, we need to catch ourselves – bells should go off in our head, fireworks should burst in the sky, we should immediately go into red alert—because we're really just kidding ourselves.

In fact, if we face reality, it's more likely, that it's not "we can't," or "we tried," it's that we really don't want to. We might want someone else to change. We might even fervently pray that they do so. But we don't really want to. We like things just they way they are. Trying is easier than doing. Doing takes discipline—consistent discipline.

I don't want the cheese, I just want to get out of the trap.

The problem is within. It's not parents. It's not other people. It's not our circumstances. It's us.

Actually about 80% of our problems are of our own making. A successful person always says, "What is it in me that I need to change?" They're open to the fact that they're not perfect.

Be blessed this week. Morne and Fred